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Cablegate: Turkmenistan Emerging As Pragmatic Regional Player

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DE RUEHAH #0199/01 0390939
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 080939Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0234
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 000199

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN
USAID/W FOR EE/AA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON ENRG IR AF UZ TI TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN EMERGING AS PRAGMATIC REGIONAL PLAYER


1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: The delivery of a significant amount of
humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and enhanced provision of
electricity to Tajikistan, combined with intensified economic
cooperation and diplomatic activity in the region, suggest
that Turkmenistan's leadership sees value in establishing
itself as a responsible regional player. END SUMMARY.

TURKMEN HUMANITARIAN AID TO AFGHANISTAN

3. (U) Turkmen and Afghan media reported February 7 that
Turkmenistan had sent off a large caravan of humanitarian aid
to Afghanistan. The shipment reportedly contained 1,000 tons
of flour, 500 tons of diesel oil, and 9,000 tons of mostly
children's clothing. The donation was to be distributed in
forty-two districts in five provinces of northern Afghanistan
-- Jouzjan, Faryab, Balkh, Kunduz, Badghis. President
Berdimuhamedov and Afghan President Karzai had spoken by
phone on January 29, when a decision was made to send this
assistance. "Neytralniy Turkmenistan" printed photos of the
caravan's sendoff, which included traditional dancers, a
dutar musical ensemble, and crowds of balloon-waving
students.

4. (U) This is the first direct delivery of humanitarian
aid to Afghanistan that anyone can remember coming from
Turkmenistan, although Turkmenistan's government has provided
other forms of assistance to the Afghans in the recent past.
Turkmenistan, for example, financed the reconstruction of a
two-kilometer stretch of railroad track from the border at
Serhetabat (formerly Gushgi) to Turgundi last year. The
government has also been assisting Afghanistan in meeting its
energy needs, including construction of power lines and
electrical distribution stations, delivery of electricity and
liquefied petroleum gas at subsidized rates of two cents per
kilowatt hour, and occasional forgiveness of electricity
debts.

5. (U) Turkmenistan's leadership undoubtedly supports the
stabilization and development of Afghanistan for pragmatic
and strategic, as well as humanitarian, reasons. President
Berdimuhamedov, following in Niyazov's footsteps, is
continuing to advance the development of a
Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI),
arguing that beyond the advantages for Turkmenistan, the
pipeline would provide much-needed income and jobs for
Afghanistan, and aid the region's infrastructural
development. Additional expansion of Afghanistan's
electricity distribution systems and construction of a modern
highway infrastructure would benefit Turkmenistan's regional
economic goals as much as Afghanistan's.

DOES TURKMENISTAN WANT TO BE A REGIONAL LEADER?

6. (SBU) There are other signs that President
Berdimuhamedov's goal is to refurbish Turkmenistan's regional
image from that of an isolated, impoverished dictatorship to
an economically-pragmatic regional partner willing to
cooperate on issues of mutual benefit. Turkmenistan is
building a solid new partnership with Uzbekistan. In spite
of years of troubled bilateral relations while Niyazov was
alive, the government has been able to turn the relationship
around. Uzbek President Karimov paid an official visit to
Ashgabat in late 2007, Uzbek companies recently held a
business exhibition in Ashgabat, and the two countries have
been cooperating -- at least, when Tashkent is inclined to do
so -- to deliver electricity to Tajikistan since November
2007.

7. (U) Its electricity deal with Tajikistan has also given
Turkmenistan an opportunity to reveal its emerging
reliability as a regional partner. Energy shortages have
been rampant across Central Asia, due to an exceptionally

ASHGABAT 00000199 002 OF 002


cold winter, and Tajikistan, especially, is close to crisis.
Turkmenistan has consistently and reliably exported at least
three million kilowatts per day to Tajikistan since November,
while Uzbekistan's deliveries have largely ceased since early
January. On January 28, after Tajik President Rahmon asked
President Berdimuhamedov to increase the desparately-needed
supply of electricity, Turkmenistan increased delivery to
Tajikistan to 6.6 million kilowatts per day -- when
Uzbekistan allows it to be delivered.

8. (SBU) Even Turkmenistan's on-going gas dispute with
Iran has shown Turkmenistan's government is looking for
respect, and is developing the savvy to get it. Ashgabat
firmly reminded Tehran that Turkmenistan does not have to do
business with its southern neighbor, and that it prefers to
work with reliable partners. At the same time, however,
Turkmenistan's government welcomed an economic exhibition, as
well as a week of Iranian cultural events that included a
popular Iranian film festival.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: Turkmenistan is surprisingly quickly
emerging as a (ragmatic and responsible regional player. It
appears to be evolving beyond simple, bilateral views of
mutual interest to a more strategic perspective of the role
Turkmen leaders see the country playing in the future. END
COMMENT.
HOAGLAND

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